A Short History of Bernards Heath

Crime on the Heath

When James Stratton and his son Joseph appeared before the St Albans Magistrates in 1873 the following list of convictions against the prisoners was read:

James Stratton 1842 poaching; 1844, stealing turnips; 1845, ditto; 1847, stealing wood; 1847, assault; 1848, poaching; 1849, poaching; 1850, stealing turnips; 1851, poaching; 1853, night poaching; 1856, felony (3 years penal servitude); 1861, stealing turnips; 1862, stealing turnips and felony (5 years penal servitude); 1868, drunk and riotous and wilful damage; 1869, stealing turnips and damage; 1870, vagrancy, damage, vagrancy and stealing turnips.

Joseph Stratton 1850, stealing turnips; 1852, stealing wood; 1853, game trespass; 1855 stealing cherries; 1855, stealing turnips; 1856, stealing turnip tops; 1857, game trespass; 1858, using a gun; 1858, using a snare; 1859, using a snare; 1860, stealing turnips; 1861, poaching; 1862, poaching; 1863, poaching; 1864, poaching; 1870, poaching for fish; 1872, poaching for fish; 1865, Bedford Assizes (5 years penal servitude).

In 1880 the murder of Edward Anstee, of Marshalswick farm hit the national press in a big way. It turned out that the murderer, Thomas Wheeler, had worked on Heath Farm under Edmund Smith, and shortly before the murder had broken into Heath Farm and stolen some silver. Some of the property taken from Marshalswick was also found in fields adjoining Bernards Heath.

However most of the criminal activities in the area involved poaching and petty theft of crops from the local farms. Almost every week cases would be reported in the local paper - and some names - particularly members of the Stratton family regularly appear. The brickfields were not exempt, and in 1870 James Thoroughgood stole some coal from Mr Arnold's brickfield and was sentenced to a month's imprisonment.

There were also the occasional road traffic offence. In 1869 David Martin called into The Cricketers and shortly afterwards was stopped by Police Constable Quint who noticed that he was asleep in charge of a cart.

Next: Sandridge New Town

For more on the Stratton family see Stealing Turnip Tops near St Albans and Theft of Potatoes at St Albans